Marriage debate will be tricky next year for Republicans


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By John Krull

John Krull, publisher,

John Krull, publisher,

INDIANAPOLIS – Indiana House Minority Leader Scott Pelath, D-Michigan City, described the upcoming battle in the state over same-sex marriage with one word.

Commentary button in JPG - no shadowPelath called it a “distraction.” He said Indiana’s leaders need to be focused on creating jobs for Hoosiers.

Indiana Sen. Jim Merritt, R-Indianapolis, was more cautious. While noting that he voted in favor of the proposed state constitutional amendment that would ban same-sex unions, Merritt wouldn’t commit himself to voting for the measure again. He said he was “listening” to his constituents on the issue.

Merritt and Pelath were talking as guests on the radio show I host. Their remarks illustrated how tricky the dynamics on the issue have become.

Nearly a decade ago, Hoosier Republicans (with the support of many Democrats) could proclaim enshrining a ban into the Indiana constitution their top priority. They already had a ban in place in state law, but they wanted to nail the door shut.

It seemed at the time to be a safe political move – at least on the surface. Even then, though, there were signs that a change was going to come.

In those days, I was the executive director of what was then the Indiana Civil Liberties Union – now the ACLU of Indiana, which opposed bans on same-sex unions. In that position, I saw both polling and focus-group studies that showed that the support for a ban was strongest among social conservatives who were middle-aged or older and that opposition to the ban was likely to grow over time.

And that opposition has grown. The most recent poll showed that almost twice as many Hoosiers now oppose putting the ban in the constitution as support it. That poll found that 64 percent of the state’s voters think a constitutional ban would be bad while 34 percent liked the idea. The numbers narrowed, though, when those polled were asked how they’d vote – with 46 percent saying they’d vote against a ban if it were on the ballot and 43 percent saying they would vote for it.

For it to get on the ballot, legislators will have to take the measure up again. The process for amending the Indiana constitution is protracted. It requires the legislature to approve and the governor to approve the measure twice, with an election between the two approvals. Only after the second affirmation by the legislature can the proposed amendment go before the voters.

And, if the legislature doesn’t reaffirm the proposed amendment before yet another election takes place, then the measure dies and the clock starts over.

That means that Indiana lawmakers have to deal with same-sex marriage during this upcoming session, one way or the other.

Lawmakers will have to make that decision under intense spotlights because Indiana likely will be a battleground state on the issue. After a long string of states voted in favor of bans, the states where such measures were the on the ballot most recently have rejected them.

And the U.S. Supreme Court since has struck down the federal same-sex marriage ban, saying that, among other things, it violated the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

If the measure does go onto the ballot this fall, Hoosiers can expect to see presidential campaign year level spending on the issue from both sides of the debate. I know sales people at Indiana radio and TV stations who are salivating at the thought of the advertising revenue that a same-sex marriage fight could generate next year.

That doesn’t end the list of pressures and complications. Republicans, in particular, are under the gun for two reasons.

The first is that two of their major constituencies – the business community and social conservatives – are at odds on the issue. A long list of major employers in the state has come out against the ban while social conservatives have made getting the ban into the constitution their top priority. Either way Republicans go, they’ll alienate some of their friends.

There’s also no way for them to duck the issue. With super majorities in both the House and Senate, Republicans will be the ones held accountable for whatever happens on the issue.

Perhaps that’s why Pelath seemed to enjoy, for the moment, being in the minority.

When I asked the Democratic leader if he took some pleasure in seeing his Republican opponents on the verge of having a huge family quarrel, Pelath said no – but he was laughing when he said it.

Merritt wasn’t laughing.

He said the same-sex marriage issue was going to be “tough.”

Merritt’s got a gift for understatement.

John Krull is director of Franklin College’s Pulliam School of Journalism, host of “No Limits” WFYI 90.1 FM Indianapolis and publisher of, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.

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  1. No matter your stance on same sex marriage, changing the Indiana Constitution to add this is wrong. The constitution is a set of rules for our government to follow in order to protect the rights of all citizens. It isn’t a book of all laws. You don’t see murder, theft, speeding, or any other things in there that are illegal. If our legislators vote to add this to the constitution, then we need to vote every one of them out for the simple fact that they don’t know or understand what the constitution is even for.

    • Our constitution defines many things. Why should it not define marriage? We may argue if defining marriage is necessary, but I see no reason why it would not be a constitutional issue.

      No one’s “freedoms or civil rights” are being violated by our current marriage laws simply because we do not issue a marriage license to any combination of unions. That idea is a deliberate misrepresentation of the issue designed to appeal to emotions rather than rational consideration. I am disappointed that you appear to not understand the greater implications of opening up licensing to unions based sexual preference while not extending it to other unions.

      The most reasonable action would be to keep state licensing as it is, one man and one woman of legal age, and remove the tax and social penalties for all unions. That however, is not acceptable to most supporting homosexual marriage.

  2. Indiana really fights to stay behind the rest of America! Can anybody really justify adding an amendment to the constitution to infringe on the intrinsic rights of our fellow men? The right for two people to build a life, family, and legal alliance should just simply be accepted, without regard to physiology, instead of voted on!

    • Spot on comment. Indiana is running in the wrong direction. To be a leader government needs to be taken completely out of the marriage business. How idiotic is it to try an legislate who one should pledge a lifetime loving relationship to? If this piece of garbage is passed it should have something tacked on that required the name of the state to be Puritaniana. These fools need to concentrate on real problems and leave personal things to individuals.

    • Marriage is not a right. It has defining limitations which makes it a privilege.

  3. Heterosexual marriage is unique and has eons of acceptance. To ignore those truths one must turn to emotional considerations over logic. states do not license unions based on love and commitment. If in the name of fairness we want to remove licensing it from the state, then indeed homosexual marriage was a threat to it.

    I want anyone of legal age who desires to build a life together. What we need to do is remove penalties for all unions rather than rush to add to it unions based solely on sexual preference. doing so is opening up a Pandora’s box of issues that will not be easy to address as states begin licensing homosexual unions.

    The issue is also driving us toward federally mandated marriage laws. That is why states have had to clarify how they define marriage. A lawsuit has been filed in Tennessee that might have a large impact on this issue.

  4. There is nothing “tricky” about the thousands of years of its meaning; it equals one man plus one woman.

    • Thousands of years? Now that’s funny. There have been gay people sine the beginning of time. Marriage is a relatively recent thing. Wake up and look around.

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